- Associated Press - Monday, December 15, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A digital billboard in northwest Arkansas is flashing an advertisement by an atheist group that promotes skipping church this Christmas.

The Interstate 49 ad in Springdale shows a young girl writing to Santa that all she wants for the holidays is to miss church, because she’s too old for fairy tales, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (https://bit.ly/1yUbb0z ) reported. The electronic ad is followed about 16 seconds later by one from Grace Church in Alma. It reads, “Questions, Doubts, Curiosity? All Welcome at Grace Church, Alma.”

The New Jersey-based nonprofit American Atheists has had its billboard up in Springdale since Dec. 1, and it’s a part of its campaign to promote its national convention in Memphis in April. The eight-second ad is meant to encourage atheists to speak with family members instead of feeling pressured to go to church during the holidays.

“Our target audience is explicitly in-the-closet atheists - people who don’t believe in God and need encouragement to talk about this topic with their family,” said Danielle Muscato of the American Atheists.

In response to the atheists’ group ad, the congregation of Grace Church raised about $900, with some donations from as far away as Florida, to pay for its own ad. It went up last week.

“We wanted to express respect and a desire to sit down and listen,” said the church’s executive pastor, Devon Walker. “We actually love that discussion. We support that.”

He said the church has received calls and emails from atheists to express how grateful they were that “we responded with respect and love.”

“It’s not really a common situation where you see Christians and atheists sitting down to talk to each other, to have a dialogue,” he said. “Normally, it’s pretty hostile between the two groups.”

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com

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